Today, on April 9, the United States celebrates National Unicorn Day. Meanwhile, here at Polytechnic University, we celebrate the launch of the “Unicorn Factory” project. It was created to inform readers about our students’ and graduates’ startups, which have grown into successful businesses.
Why does the project have this name? It’s simple; the term “Unicorn” refers to a startup company with a market value of over one billion dollars.
We introduce to you the Unicorn Factory’s hero Nikita GUSIKA and his smart storage unit production startup called Veni.
Nikita GUSIKA is a second-year student at the Higher School of Theoretical Mechanics. At the age of 20, he holds the commercial director position at Veni LLC and also works as a laboratory technician at the Research and Education Center Gazpromneft-Polytech. In his spare time, Nikita boxes, plays the synthesizer, and even knows how to determine the authenticity of antique coins and assess their value professionally. Nikita briefly describes himself as “superconservative”.
Veni, a company bringing new technologies into people’s lives, was founded in 2019. Currently, Veni operates from its own office at the Kirov Plant. Besides our hero, a commercial director, there is a CEO, a programmer, a designer, technicians, and sales managers working in the company every day — fifteen people in total.
The young and enterprising team simultaneously works in two areas: smart storing units and smart homes. The company slogan “Making the Future Today” was selected for a good reason since employees are able to develop any intelligent system. All the customer has to do is to explain the problem they have at their production facility or office.
It’s no parcel terminal
The company’s employees call the smart storage units “smart lockers.” In short, a smart locker is an automated hand-out and pick-up device. It is equipped with built-in different-sized slots for items storing, a touch screen to control the retrieval process, and a console panel. The software links the smart locker to the administrative system. Department supervisors receive real-time data on the amount of available equipment and can decline or accept employee requests for equipment.
The range of uses for these lockers is very extensive. In an office, the system offers storage and delivery of documents, belongings, including food, and it can also be used for drying umbrellas and clothes. In production facilities, the systems are issuing and tracking large equipment, small consumables, food, as well as handing out one-day passes to guests.
However, the Veni team is sure that it is not the final outcome. They can develop any smart locker design and interface, whatever the customer wants. The cost includes the software development, the equipment itself, training, and design.
How does it work? An employee walks up to the smart locker and scans the access card. The system finds the employee’s status in the database, displays the list of equipment required for work, and sends a request to the administration. The administration confirms the request, then the system opens the necessary slots, and the employee can pick up the equipment. At the end of the day, it can be returned following the same procedure.
“Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered)
In fact, the smart lockers are the company’s second startup. Back in high school, the students set out to design a machine to create ice figures for soft drinks. They envisioned companies buying equipment and creating ice in the shape of their logos. “The first startup prepared us both physically and mentally for the future”, Nikita reminisces. The 15 kg device was out of demand among companies. They needed 1000-1500 ice figures for one-time events, so it was unprofitable to buy equipment for that purpose.
However, during the first year, the idea of smart lockers came along with the realization that the ice startup needed serious improvements. Phillip Morris International representatives spotted them at a startup conference. They discussed the problem of developing a system for storing and tracking equipment at their St. Petersburg branch. The system would automate the employee equipment pick-up process and provide management with information on what equipment is available and where it is stored.
Nikita and his friend Alexander tackled the problem. First, they made one slot that could be opened from a smartphone. Then a programmer, a friend of theirs from Israel, took over, and they developed the software. After that, they brought in a designer to create a smart lockers design.
“The reality is, the more you investigate the subject, the more you realize you don’t know anything. When we first started, it seemed as if we could get millions in just two days. But days turned into weeks, weeks into months, with more and more questions arising,” Nikita explains.
The students worked on the problem for an entire year, making minor adjustments from time to time at the customer’s request. Philip Morris International installed the first smart locker in 2020. At the moment, Veni is developing a smart locker for the company’s Moscow branch and promoting the startup among other Russian companies. Our hero believes that “when you sell a person something they need, that’s not selling; to sell is to explain why the person should buy the product”.
But the company is far from finishing at this point. The team plans to continue the development of equipment for differently shaped ice production and searches for new fields of smart solutions application in business and other areas. “A heat of passion and cold calculations” is our hero’s main guiding principle.
Material prepared by the PR Office.
Written by Alice VERBINA.